Thursday, April 29, 2004

"Too few good sub-editors" - why Phillip Knightley keeps getting away with bull**** 

The poor man's John Pilger, Phillip Knightley, laments that the US Army has got "Too few good men" on the ground in Iraq:

"Iraq is bleeding the US military dry, and conscription may be the drastic means of staunching the wound, writes Phillip Knightley. [that's subbie's words, so we can't blame Knightley too much, but:]

"The United States Army is overstretched in Iraq. It is in desperate need of more specialist troops and the Pentagon is considering proposals to reintroduce the draft. This is a humiliating retreat from pre-Iraq boasts that the US could fight two wars simultaneously in any part of the world. The reality is somewhat different."

The reality is somewhat different, that's true, but very little else is. How much bull**** can one fit in such a short opening paragraph? Let me count the ways.

While it is difficult to argue with Knightley's main contention that the US Army is currently too small and therefore tends to get overstretched, it was Bill Clinton who had cut half a million personnel from the defence forces, including four active divisions and two Reserve divisions. Too few good men at the White House tends to cause too few good men in the armed forces.

As for Iraq "bleeding the American military dry", soldiers are re-enlisting at rates that surpass the Pantagon's targets: "As of March 31 -- halfway through the Army's fiscal year -- 28,406 soldiers had reenlisted, topping the six-month goal of 28,377... The Marines, which along with the Army have borne the brunt of combat in Iraq, said they already have fulfilled 90 percent of their retention goal for the fiscal year for getting Marines to re-up after their initial commitment. The Air Force and the Navy said they, too, are exceeding their goals."

And the news that "the Pentagon is considering proposals to reintroduce the draft" might be the news for the Pentagon too. The proposal to reintroduce the draft was a brainchild of a Republican Senator Chuck Hagel from Nebraska. The Pentagon itself doesn't see any need for the draft, and is therefore not considering any such proposals.

Later on in the article, Knightley writes again that the Pentagon is "considering reintroducing the draft" but he qualifies that by adding that its objective would be "to compel [Arabic] speakers to serve in the armed forces." So Knightley's not talking about the draft per se but "special skills draft". Even that, however, is inaccurate: the Pentagon is not considering anything, it's the Selective Service System, an independent federal agency that organises any conscription. Its officials are saying that the possibility of such draft is "remote." The agency did begin "the process of creating the procedures and policies to conduct such a targeted draft" but only on the oft-chance that "military officials ask Congress to authorize it and the lawmakers agree to such a request." As the article goes to say, there little reason to expect that it might happen: "[Chuck Hagel's bill] has minimal support with only 13 House lawmakers signing on as co-sponsors. A corresponding bill in the Senate introduced by Sen. Fritz Hollings, the outgoing South Carolina Democrat, has no co-sponsors."

And how about that "humiliating retreat from pre-war boast that the US could fight two wars simultaneously in any part of the world"? It's not just a pre-war, but also a pre-Bush "boast": fighting two wars simultaneously was a Clinton-era strategic left-over that the Pentagon wanted to scrap already in 2001 - something that both Bush and Rumsfeld have actually agreed with. The "two-war" strategy has been replaced by a "one plus" plan, which sees the capability to fight one large conflict and pursue another smaller operation at the same time. So much for the "boast" and the "humiliating retreat."

I know that journos like Knightly have acquired a stature of sacred cows, but for goodness sakes, doesn't anyone at all actually read and check their stuff before it's published?


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